Contributed by Jody McVittie.
Have you ever heard yourself asking the question, “Do you want to go to bed now?” (meaning, “It is time for bed”) and getting the answer, “No”? Or have you asked, “Will you please set the table?” and gotten no response at all? What went wrong? We often use the language of a request when we aren’t really asking at all – and then we get frustrated because we aren’t getting what we wanted.
Food for thought:
A request has three possible responses: yes, no, or some kind of re-negotiated response. If you aren’t really ready to receive anyone of the three as a response, what you are doing is disguising something else as a request. Your words are asking but you are really saying something else.
Why the heck would anyone want to do that? Probably because we know that a demand – which expects one certain response also invites power struggles, rebellion and/or resentment. So we pretend to ask when we really are making a demand. Tricky eh? Except our kids have our number. If they are feeling good, they will submit to our demands gracefully. When they aren’t feeling so good – well – you know the kinds of mischief that can invite.
Other options? Routines are an important piece of internal family structure. Letting the routines be the boss is a wonderful way to get yourself out of power struggles and to help children develop a rhythm in their daily life. When your family has routines you can move away from demands-disquised-as-polite-requests. Instead you might try comments like:
– It is time to set the table. (Calm, clear, and firm, but YOU aren’t the demanding meanie.)
– It is bed time, what needs to happen first?
– You are done with your bath, what comes next?
– The cat looks hungry. Who is in charge of feeding the cat today?
– It is 8:00, what is our agreement? (Dishes done by 8:00).
It isn’t as hard as it may sound but it does require a little from parents too:
– Figure out a system for sharing family work/responsibilities and do your best to honor it (though it may change as you find what works best for your family)
– Be consistent, predictable and stay calm.
– Routine charts for small children work wonderfully, but make sure they are involved in making them.
– Be gentle with yourself when you (or your children) make mistakes.
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